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Black History Month Facts & Figures: Cicely Tyson

Cicely Tyson is an African-American actress, fashion model, and cultural activist. When she was just 18 years old, Tyson left a typing job and began modeling.

She went on to build a career spanning over seven decades, playing roles depicting strong black female figures in movie and TV productions such as Mama Flora’s Family, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, Alex Haley’s Roots, and Sounder, just to name a few. Cicely unwaveringly refused to participate in any projects aimed at exploiting black race and culture and would not take on a role simply for a paycheck.

Truly committed to her community, Tyson co-founded the Dance Theater of Harlem after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In 2009 the Cicely L. Tyson Community School of Performing and Fine Arts opened in New Jersey in her honor. She remains actively committed to these and other programs she supports.

Her expertise spans off screen and onto the Broadway stage. After an almost 30 year hiatus, Tyson returned in Horton Foote’s adaptation of the play “The Trip to Bountiful” in 2011.

In recent years she has become a staple on award-winning tv drama How To Get Away With Murder, and has starred in many Tyler Perry productions including The Diary of a Mad Black Woman, Madea’s Family Reunion, and A Fall From Grace.

Tyson has received countless accolades, awards, and honors for her work on and off screen. She has been recognized by the Congress of Racial Equality, the National Council of Negro Women, and the NAACP. In 1977 Tyson was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame. She has received three Emmy Awards, a Black Reel Award, a Screenactor’s Guild Award, a Tony Award, and an honorary Academy Award. In 2016 she was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, presented by President Barack Obama.

Cicely Tyson, thank you for exemplifying black excellence!

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